On Spiritual Foundations
Victory is, before all, a state of spirit and question of character. A result of the value vertical. There is energy among us, both in the arena and in the stands, and the sportsmen feel it, especially when playing in their country. It is a matter of recognizing. People feel how deeply and sincerely we are willing to fight for a common cause, to bring joy. There are no illusions. It either exists or not. The highest level of success are not medals, it is when your people recognize you as their champion

By: Dejan Bulajić
Photo: Water Polo Association of Serbia, Guest’s Archive

When the best Serbian water polo players all leave to their clubs, most of us stop following their performances. When they gather together in the national team and enter the radar of the public, very critical by the way, they just continue the high rhythm of commitments, with the exception of only a few free Sundays. If it’s true that young people endure difficult challenges more easily, we shouldn’t expect reflexes of tiredness from our national team member Nikola Jakšić. However…
– The club season was extremely difficult. My ”Ferenzvaros” won the Champion’s League, but we didn’t have a chance for a long celebration. Only a few days later, we gathered in the national team expecting the summer season, which, through the World League final tournament, opened us the doors to the Olympic Games, as well as preparations for the World Championship. It is sometimes really difficult to keep up with such a rhythm and we are all longing for a break, but obviously there is no time for it.

Will I be mistaken if I say that it’s good that talented children don’t realize how requesting sport is when they enter it?
It’s good I didn’t know it then. How could I know? I entered water polo at the age of less than eight. It was an attractive discovery of my childhood, which overwhelmed me completely. As time has passed, my obligations were becoming more and more serious, but no one in such an early period could even anticipate what high-level sport actually looks like. Only when you enter it, you become aware of how requesting it is, as well as what it offers. If there is love and willingness, as the case was with me, there is no giving up. However, I have to admit that it is so vigorous that it’s really difficult to bear. The World League final tournament for example. Six games in six days, and only the winner goes to the Olympics. Such challenges are sometimes inhumane. I, at the age of twenty-two, tell you that. Can you imagine how the older ones endure it?

After the experiences you have gained, would you like your children to enter sports one day?
To be honest, yes. Whether I’d like them to be water polo players, is another issue. It is certain that children gain healthy habits through sports and that it offers the basis for healthy growing up. Whether it will turn into a professional career or just recreation, depends on numerous conditions which parents shouldn’t influence too much. I think many of them are wrong because they insist on something that even their kids don’t want. It is a wrong method, because you can’t achieve anything by force. The child should make the decision about what he or she wants, and parents should only give directions and support.


Do you think that sport, with its strict criteria, will be able to resist contemporary trends promising an easy life story?
It is certain that many talented children will take a road which is not related to sports, due to an abundant offer of easy contents, or another which also calls for great sacrifices. However, I’d again stress out the importance of parents. If they swamp their children with video games and instant contents from their earliest childhood, it is unlikely that any serious efforts will be able to inspire them in their life. I repeat, not all of us have to be successful people with careers, but I think it’s useful to teach children to get used to efforts, because there are no serious results without them. Therefore I’m convinced that sport will remain an attractive choice for a sufficient number of talented and hard-working boys and girls.

During your maturing, you expressed a wish for both sports and academic development. How did you manage to fit all that together?
I’m not sure I should be commended in that matter, because I missed to bring some things to an end. Instead of being fourth year student of Law School, I’m still at the third year, because I simply, due to my obligations in Budapest, cannot be more engaged in my studies. Last year I passed only one exam, but I’m slowly returning and I’ll complete it finally. I’m grateful to my parents for that as well as for my maturing in sports. They showed me the basic objectives in life and the importance of education. I was a straight A student in elementary school, one of the best in high school, although already then I had a difficult rhythm due to every-day practices. The studies have only temporarily given room to sports in my life, but I’m certain I’ll return to them convincingly, as I do in sports.

You have learned very early that the greatest results are reached through a most difficult path.
Mostly thanks to my parents, who clearly depicted me the price of success. However, even if I hadn’t felt it on my own skin, I’d be ready to confirm it. It has always been so and always will be. You cannot reach the top taking shortcuts.

Is that the message you’d pass on to those who are still dreaming about a career filled with great successes?
Of course. Those who are not ready to overcome their own abilities are most often languishing in averageness. Giving more than your maximum, giving 110 percent of yourself – that’s the way to achieve the highest objectives. There is no thinking about what you’re sacrificing in order to endure what we’re doing. If we bargain with what we love, we belong neither in sports nor anything serious. If we give more than our maximum, it will pay off, whenever. Perhaps not in sports, but in some other field, in some other activity. It is a valuable habit gained for the entire life and will bring results somewhere. The enormous efforts invested are never in vain. In order to be more successful than others, we must overcome ourselves.


Has sport taken away something from you?
Sure! I could tell you a long story about missed school trips, evenings out, going to cinemas or theaters, about the time I didn’t share with my generation due to my obligations in the club or national team, because of practices and games. I know what moments of relaxedness look like, without strict rules and discipline, but I also know why I sacrificed them. It would be terrible if the sacrifice hadn’t paid off. Fortunately it did, and that gives me full satisfaction.

Such an ambitious and accomplished man probably has many other areas of interests?
Movies are my passion. I enjoy movies and like going to cinemas. I was thrilled when cinemas introduced 4D technology. I especially like science fiction and action movies of such type. When people ask me what movies I like, I sometimes say ”those when they jump from building to building”, and we laugh together. Anyway, I’m not too picky in genres. I also like comedies, dramas, horror movies, anything that keeps my attention. I’m flexible in music too. I listen both to local and foreign music, depending on my mood. I have been reading a lot since I moved to Budapest, mostly science fiction. It suits me after strenuous practices and games. On second thought, I haven’t read anything worthy for a long time, write it exactly as I said.

Are you nostalgic in Budapest, although you’re not too far from your country and home city?
Of course I feel nostalgic for my homeland and I always ask myself how it would feel like if I were further than I am now. I miss everything I want to keep in my life – my family, dear people, friends, going out, places with special memories. Only when you leave your neighborhood you realize how many valuable places there are in our lives, which we most often don’t pay attention to while we are present in them. It seems that one should leave and be alone in some distant place in order to realize how much some way stations mean to us. That is why I don’t like to stay long when I go somewhere. I return quickly, because this is where I feel best.


You are one of those people who, by comparing, have the opportunity to see what is really valuable in the nation you belong to?
It was said long ago – go everywhere, but return home. Wherever I was and however I spent my time, I have never felt as good as I’ve felt at home. I had the opportunity to see other countries, now I’m in Budapest, which is similar to Belgrade, but nowhere can you feel what you can feel in our environment. It is a state of spirit, the vibrating of a being reacting to simple life stories. I know that other nations also have similar features, but ours are special to me. I understand them, I react the same way, I laugh, I feel sorrow, joy. That’s us and within us is me and there is nothing I’d change there.

Due to such attitude, characteristic for many of your colleagues, the public has been watching Serbian sportsmen with particular sympathy for a long time now?
It is the energy flowing among us, which the sportsmen feel, especially when we are playing in our country. I think it’s a matter of recognizing. People feel our enormous wish to provide them joy for won medals. There are no tricks there. It either exists or not. The rain was pouring in ”Tašmajdan”, but no one left. The ”Arena” was shaking with us at the European Championship. If it weren’t so, who knows whether we would have such dynamite within us, the wish to be the best. The highest level on the scale of success are not medals, but being recognized by your people as their champion. There is nothing higher than that.

How long will the fairytale of our water polo last?
It is difficult to say, because real quality is not necessarily expressed through excellent results. You’ve seen yourself that there are excellent national teams besides ours, and only shades are decisive. Our priority is the Tokyo Olympics, so we played with a young team at the World Championship, which indicates a change of generations in the recent future. It will happen after Tokyo, but I’m convinced that those who stay in the national team and those who will come will succeed in preserving the high ranking of Serbian water polo.


Well Done, Son
Your parents have given you directions and support in everything crucially important for you. How do they react to what you do today?
They follow everything I do, share my happiness and pleasure… and sometimes tell me: ”Well done, son!”


Spirit and Character
How do we explain the phenomenon of Serbian sports, in their brightest examples?
It is also a state of spirit and our character. The readiness to surpass yourself, to always give more than you think you can. The decisiveness to be the first to jump into the fire and not give up, even when you think there is no hope left.


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